Writing Research Papers (Part 1) – Focusing Your Research

Many students dread writing research papers! These assignments don’t have to keep you up all night stressing. Instead, use these tips to write effectively in less time by staying focused, using the syllabus, and writing fewer words. Your grade will improve, too! Here are some tips:
1. Use the syllabus. Re-read the syllabus and match your interests to course objectives. Use objectives to create a list of 3 or 4 possible topics. For example, if the syllabus says, “In this course, we will examine the relationship between pizza consumption and tomato crop size in America…” you might choose “pizza,” “American tomato harvest,” or “tomato crop size.” This gives your paper a solid base.
2. Target your research. Don’t spin your wheels! Scan the bibliographies of all course textbooks first. This will save you time. Look for articles that match 2 or 3 of your topics. For instance, if two of your choices are “American tomato harvest” and “average regional pizza consumption,” look for the words “pizza consumption,” “tomatoes,” or the number of pizza restaurants per U. S. region in the titles. You may even find ways to combine your topics to create a more interesting paper!
3. Skim abstracts and introductions. Locate 3 or 4 books, journal articles, or conference papers and skim read the abstracts and/ or introductions. (Maybe the State Tomato Growers Annual Conference papers or restaurant industry magazine articles in the example.) Don’t commit to a source just yet! Make sure it relates to your topic first. You’ll save time by skipping unrelated information.
4. Finalize your topic. Now that you’ve seen what’s available, boil your topics down to one sentence. Try to combine topics from your list in interesting ways. For example, maybe you want to compare pizza consumption rates to the poverty index in a state. From there you’ll be able to include information such as: average pizza consumption per large city, household income levels, tomato harvest size, and more in your paper! Either way, you’ve got a rock-solid base and tons of options!
5. Collect some evidence! Most instructors require 5 to 10 sources per research paper. Use the articles from step #3 above to locate the rest of your sources. Skim their bibliographies to find related material. Also, choose balanced sources. For example, maybe you’ll find articles saying people living in the Midwest eat more pizza on average than those living in the South. Other authors may say these regions have the same pizza consumption levels when you account for regional cultural differences. Include information from both sources to balance your evidence.
6. Read and take notes. Now that you have the sources you need, read them and take notes. Never read every word of the source! No article is exactly what you need. Instead, read titles, section headings, and the first sentences of paragraphs. Only read paragraphs or sections that relate to your specific topic. Write notes on interesting facts, figures, and findings while reading. Organize your notes by source as you go. (Use a separate piece of paper for each source to avoid confusion later.)
By following these steps, you will have an interesting topic that’s focused and relevant to your class. Your sources will be balanced and you’ll save time by concentrating your reading efforts on the most important evidence for your needs. In the end, you’ll have an organized set of notes to use in creating your research paper.
In part 2, you’ll learn how to use your notes to create an outline and write your paper!

Research Papers
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